COMMENT: Sydney whining over venue for Asian Cup clash no surprise

PREDICTABLY it didn’t take long for the whining to emanate out of Sydney about Newcastle hosting a potential Asian Cup semi-final featuring the Socceroos.
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Social media was abuzz on Saturday night following Australia’s 1-0 loss South Korea in Brisbane.

‘‘An Asian Cup semi-final in Newcastle? Really?’’ was one typically Sydney-centric Twitter message.

Another tweet answered with ‘‘Tasmania didn’t have a suitable venue’’.

Then on Monday both the Sydney Morning Herald and Daily Telegraph ran articles suggesting it would be embarrassing to see an Asian Cup semi-final, potentially between Australia and Japan, at Hunter Stadium.

Admittedly it is less than ideal that Hunter Stadium’s capacity will be diminished to 22,000 due to Asian Football Confederation’s rules preventing tickets being sold for the southern and northern grassed hills.

Even if temporary seating can be installed, the capacity will fall well short of the ground’s usual 33,000.

Meanwhile the other semi-final venue, Homebush’s Stadium Australia, has a capacity of 83,000.

Correctly, the AFC has already ruled out transferring the match from Newcastle. This is the game Newcastle and the Hunter deserves.

The region gave birth to one of the country’s oldest clubs, West Wallsend, formed by English miners in 1884.

The Northern NSW region has also produced 97 Socceroos and one of our country’s greatest ever footballers, Liverpool legend Craig Johnston, grew up at Lake Macquarie.

The Newcastle Jets are on track to miss the A-League finals for a fifth straight season and are beset by ownership turmoil, but still boast 10,000 members.

Would Sydney FC supporters front up to Allianz Stadium if they were served up five seasons of mediocrity?

No one was complaining when everyone expected the Socceroos to beat South Korea and top their group, meaning Sydney would host an Australian semi-final.

Or when Newcastle was handed a one-sided match between Japan and Palestine or a dead rubber played between Middle Eastern minnows Kuwait and Oman in the same timeslot as the Socceroos blockbuster against South Korea.

Instead, Novocastrians turned out in droves to support the world game.

The Socceroos have played in Newcastle just three times in the past 40 years. The last time being an Oceania Nations Cup semi-final against New Zealand in 1995.

We’re certainly overdue.

Here’s an idea for the Sydneysiders who are moaning about the Asian Cup semi-final – get in early and book a ticket and take a drive or train ride two hours north.

I suspect you’ll enjoy what a Novocastrian football crowd can deliver.

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Australian Open: Nick Kyrgios overcomes Federico Delbonis in eventful clash

Australian Open 2015: full coverageKokkinakis beats 11th seed in five setsLive tennis scores
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Flag-bearer Nick Kyrgios has shaken off his back problem and a relentless opponent to close out a dream opening day for Australian players at Melbourne Park.

Rising to the expectation heaped on him in the build-up, the teenager held his body and game together long enough to keep the hype going into the second round, outlasting Argentina’s Federico Delbonis in a gruelling five-set test 7-6 (7-2), 3-6, 6-3, 6-7 (5-7), 6-3 that lasted three hours and eight minutes.

Kyrgios, the highest ranked Australian in the men’s draw at No.53, needed to take a medical timeout early in the first set, raising fears that the back injury that had provided such a talking point this week might bring an anti-climactic end to his challenge.

However he rallied to take the first set, and then had enough athleticism in reserve to break Delbonis early in the fifth and serve out the match on Margaret Court Arena.

Kyrgios’ win came just minutes after the man he beat in an Australian Open junior final, fellow Australian “Special K” young gun Thanasi Kokkinakis, pulled off a stunning upset over Lativa’s 11th seed Ernests Gulbis.

It means 2015 will be the first Australian Open since 2003 when the host nation has more than five male players advance to the second round.

Kyrgios admitted he “wasn’t in a great head space” coming into the match because of the back injury, but rated his ability to go the distance as a “massive” confidence booster heading into his next match against Croatian 23rd seed Ivo Karlovic, who won his opening match in straight sets on Monday.

“I haven’t played a lot of competitive tennis in the last couple of months due to injury,” Kyrgios said. “That’s my first win of 2015 and it’s come at the Australian Open. So I’m really pleased that I got through, and I’m really happy with how I pulled up physically from the fifth set.

“I felt that I could go longer. It was a massive difference to the first five-setter I played last year. I was struggling towards the end of the third and start of the fourth back then.

“So tonight is a massive improvement, especially when I haven’t had the ideal preparation.

“I didn’t feel rusty, but maybe I was nervous.

“Obviously there was a lot of expectation. But I had belief in myself that things were going to swing.”

Speaking after the match, Kyrgios said that he benefitted from a rise in energy when news of Kokkinakis’ victory was revealed on his court early in the fifth set of his match.

“I could hear some noise whenever he won a point or won a set. When I saw him win on the scoreboard, it sort of gave me some motivation,” Kyrgios said.

“I guess that’s what having a good relationship with him has done.”

“It’s an exciting time. I don’t think Australian tennis has been in this position for a long time, so hopefully we can keep pushing each other.”

Frustration got the better of Kyrgios at one stage in the second set, with the youngster slamming his racquet into the ground, which lead to him being penalised a point.

“I don’t really like losing. I guess that’s how the emotions come out,” he explained.

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Hezbollah buries fighters killed in Syria by Israeli strike, UN peacekeepers brace for retaliation

Beirut: Thousands turned out on the streets of southern Beirut to mourn the death of a young Hezbollah fighter – one of at least six killed in a suspected Israeli air strike on a convoy in the Syrian border area of Quneitra.
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As Jihad Mugniyeh, the son of former Hezbollah military leader Imad Mughniyeh – whose assassination in Damascus in 2008 was also attributed to Israel – was being farewelled, Iran confirmed a senior commander of its Revolutionary Guard, General Mohammad Ali Allahdadi, was killed in the air strike.

Bracing for retaliation, United Nations peacekeepers increased their patrols along the mountainous border between Lebanon and Israel following the attack, local media reported, while the Lebanese Army fortified its positions.

But Hezbollah is desperately overstretched, analysts say, with thousands of its members fighting in Syria to back up the army of President Bashar al-Assad as well as trying to fend off Sunni Islamist militant attacks in Lebanon’s north.

It cannot, they warn, afford to open up a third front against Israel in response to the air strike.

The attack came just days after Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah threatened to retaliate against Israel for its repeated strikes on targets in Syria.

He boasted the movement had strengthened its military arsenal, including Iranian Fateh-110 missiles that, with a range of 200 kilometres, are able to reach inside Israel.

A key question, says Sami Nader, a professor in international relations at St Joseph’s University in Beirut, is what Hezbollah and Iran’s Revolutionary Guard were doing in the Quneitra area on Sunday.

The region, which borders the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, is a stronghold of the al-Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front and a long way from Hezbollah’s operations to support the Syrian regime’s army in Homs, Damascus and Qusayr.

Both Hezbollah and Iran described the group as carrying out an “inspection and intelligence operation” in Syria.

“They may have been trying to engage Israel from there,” Professor Nader says, or they may have been examining the vulnerability of Lebanon’s southern borders.

“I will not be surprised at all if Nusra or the Islamic State attack Lebanon via Quneitra or Shebaa Farms,” he warned. “Everyone is expecting Nusra and IS to attack Hezbollah from the north in the Bekaa, but the south is also vulnerable.”

Professor Nader pointed to last week’s devastating twin suicide bombings in a cafe in the Alawite area of the Lebanese city of Tripoli in which nine people died – an attack claimed by the Nusra Front – as a grim marker of worse violence to come. “This really puts Lebanon in the eye of the storm and shows that Lebanese are being radicalised.”

Hezbollah has good reason to be worried about attacks from the south, he says. “I don’t think Hezbollah is suicidal enough to engage Israel today and open a third front – they have two fronts already open, two fronts that are exhausting all their resources and energy.”

Israel has struck Syria several times since the start of its four-year war, mostly targeting weapons convoys it says were destined for Hezbollah – just last month Syria says Israeli jets bombed targets near Damascus airport and the town of Dimas, near the Lebanon-Syria border.

A source told the Hezbollah-affiliated as-Safir newspaper that Sunday’s attack would be answered with a “painful and unexpected response” but not one that will drag Lebanon into all out war.

“While there is little doubt that there is likely to be [a response], Hezbollah is in no rush – even under these tense circumstances – to trigger a large-scale confrontation with Israel,” says Aram Nerguizian, Senior Fellow at the Washington-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies.

He notes any potential response from Hezbollah would be “subject to pressure from Iran”.

Israel’s military declined to comment on the attack, but the Ynet website quoted a military source saying the attack had targeted “terrorists who intended to attack Israel”.

Although he did not mention the Syria attack or Hezbollah specifically, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday: “Israel is adamant that it will have the right to defend itself against all those who wish to propagate terror and other attacks against its citizens, against its territory.”

One retired Israeli military commander, Major-General Yoav Galant, suggested the timing of Israel’s air strike was linked to its upcoming March elections. He told Israel’s Channel 2 television: “Judging by past events, you can learn that sometimes there’s a timing that is not unrelated to the elections campaign.”

Hezbollah and Israel last fought a war in 2006, in which 1200 Lebanese – most of them civilians – died and around 160 Israelis, mostly soldiers, were killed in a 34-day conflict. The two countries are still technically at war, as are Israel and Syria.

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Parents are paying a premium to live in school zones for Victoria’s best secondary colleges

In the zone: 1 Hall Street in McKinnon is in the sought-after local secondary college catchment. Local school catchments are now included on all Domain listings.
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Demand for homes in top state school zones is sending property prices in those areas straight to the top of the class.

Real estate agents say mum and dad buyers are forking out, on average, 10 to 15 per cent more to acquire a house within the boundary of an esteemed Victorian government college.

Parents happy to pay a premium to secure their child a seat at a reputable secondary school are keeping one eye on real estate listings and the other on annual VCE results.

Until now, buyers often needed to contact the school to determine if a property was within the catchment.

But on Wednesday Domain launched a new feature  on its website called School Zone, which provides the school catchments for every property listing.

One agent said the competition at auctions was “vicious”, because there are limited properties in catchments that guarantee enrolment.

McKinnon Secondary College is among Melbourne’s most respected and high-performing government schools and its zone is hot among prospective buyers.

Buxton agent and auctioneer Simon Pintado said properties inside the boundary attract an extra 10 to 15 per cent in price than those in streets just outside the red line.

Mr Pintado, from the agency’s Bentleigh office, said he was approached regularly by prospective buyers who wanted to buy only in the zone and wouldn’t even consider a property outside the perimeter.

The McKinnon zone had become more in demand over the past five years, but its popularity could be tracked back to a decade ago, Mr Pintado said.

Buyers preferred to invest a premium of $50,000 to $100,000 in a school-zoned property, rather than pay that sum in private schools fees, he said.

“It is already a proven performer. If that trend continues, buyers have an opportunity to make tremendous gains.”

Mr Pintado has newly listed 1 Hall Street in McKinnon – an elegant, three-bedroom renovated California bungalow – with the added cachet of being in the local school enrolment area.

Vendor Anne-Maree Louden and her husband Simon have owned the Hall Street property for 12 years, moving in just before the boom in the school’s popularity.

Ms Louden said she was aware the school’s success and good name had “held the market up” in the suburb.

Some zones, including for popular Strathmore Secondary College in Melbourne’s north-west, have been altered over the years by the education department, sparking anger among local families.

But the nearer the home is to the school, the safer the investment, which puts properties within walking distance of a campus on buyers’ most-wanted lists.

“Because we are so close to the school we knew we were always going to be in the zone,” Ms Louden said.

Hocking Stuart agent David Wood, who specialises in the Albert Park area,  said the secondary school in the upmarket suburb has had an influence on prices.

Albert Park College re-opened in 2011 and Mr Wood said a premium of about 15 per cent is added to homes in its enrolment border.

Mr Wood said family buyers were making a long-term commitment to live and educate their children in the area and were seeking homes they could renovate or extend as their needs changed.

“The school is a huge driving factor [in the property market],” he said.

“We see a lot of people who are trying to buy homes [in the enrolment zone] and that puts pressure on the market for homes that are bigger than two bedrooms.”

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Personality disorders: hospital staff to be trained in how to care for misunderstood condition

Hospitals across the state will be trained to care for people suffering from personality disorders – common but poorly understood conditions that often lead to self-harm and suicide.
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On Tuesday Mental Health Minister Jai Rowell will announce a new program to help improve care for the conditions. It affects between 5 and 10 per cent of the population, who have been stigmatised in the general and medical communities.

Personality disorders make a person feel emotions with excruciating intensity, often making relationships difficult and leading them to engage in destructive behaviours. It is thought between 50 and 80 per cent of sufferers self-harm.

But an innovative program called “Project Air”, developed by researchers at Wollongong University, has found that giving hospitals tools to deal with the condition can lead to big drops in the need for emergency care, shorter hospitals stays and improved well-being for carers.

On Tuesday Mr Rowell will commit $600,000 to roll out the program across the state this year.

“This is a real area of need,” Mr Rowell said. “The expansion of ‘Project Air’ will significantly improve the capacity of health services to diagnose, manage and provide effective treatment for people with personality disorders.”

About one in six of the 33,000 admissions to NSW mental-health units each year involve personality disorders. And about 90 per cent of the people who had the most frequent admissions were affected by the conditions.

Brin Grenyer, the director of Project Air and director of the University of Wollongong and Illawarra Health and Medical Research Institute, said people with personality disorders were still feared and discriminated against in the same way conditions such as cancer or schizophrenia were feared years ago.

“There is still a lot of fear around personality disorders because people don’t know what to do with them,” he said. “Health staff say … it’s not a real disorder, they are just being annoying or manipulative, and trying to get access to services when there are people with more serious needs.”

In fact, people with personality disorders often felt plagued by self-doubt, had a deep need for emotional connections with people that could be overwhelming to others, and had difficulty understanding the emotional turmoil they experienced, he said.

“They feel everything much more intensely, so it’s like the dial on their emotional life has been pushed up to 11,” he said. “A lot of the self-harm is almost an attempt at distracting themselves from the emotional pain they experience, or a way of communicating it to others.”

The $600,000 will be spent this financial year, and will go towards training programs for staff and restructuring hospitals to provide suitable care. Professor Grenyer said this would include setting up dedicated rapid-response psychological clinics that people could turn to in moments of crisis, which would hopefully prevent them from self-harming.

The program will then be expanded over the next five years.

Lifeline 13 11 14

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Asian Cup: Newcastle to keep semi-final

Matt McKay of the Socceroos is congratulated by team mates after scoring a goal during the 2015 Asian Cup match between Oman and Australia at ANZ Stadium on January 13, 2015 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)ASIAN Cup officials have guaranteed Newcastle will keep its semi-final, despite pressure to switch the potential blockbuster between Australia and Japan to ANZ Stadium.
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Organisers have looked at adding extra seats at Hunter Stadium ahead of the match, given the venue is the smallest of five being used for the tournament and can only accommodate about 23,000 people in its stands.

The Asian Football Confederation policy has prevented the sale of tickets to the two non-seated, grassed areas behind the goals at Hunter Stadium, reducing the venue’s capacity by about 10,000.

If the Socceroos beat China in Thursday’s quarter-final at Suncorp Stadium, they will most likely play tournament favourites Japan at the ground on January 27.

Despite the likely high demand for tickets, local organising committee chief executive Michael Brown all but ruled out a switch to Sydney’s ANZ Stadium – which is hosting the other semi-final on Australia Day and final on January 31.

The former Olympic venue can hold 83,500 fans but moving there would be a logistical nightmare, Brown believes.

‘‘We haven’t even looked at it,’’ he said on Monday.

‘‘I think it would be disrespectful to either team [Australia or China] to be contemplating it.’’

Asian Cup communications general manager Alison Hill later told the Newcastle Herald there was no chance of the game moving to Sydney.

‘‘I can unequivocally tell you, regardless of who is in the semi-final, the game will not be moved to Sydney,’’ Ms Hill said.

‘‘Newcastle has a semi-final and Newcastle is keeping a semi-final.

‘‘The Asian Cup has strongly been behind Newcastle and we chose to come to Newcastle and that’s not going to change.’’

A Hunter Stadium spokesperson confirmed organisers had sought to add temporary seating on the ground’s hills.

‘‘We have received a formal request from the Australian Local Organising Committee to increase the capacity at the grassed ends,’’ a spokesperson said.

‘‘The matter will be deliberated and a decision will be made on it soon.’’

The Herald, though, believes temporary seating will not be an option because of the cost and time involved.

With temporary seating out of the picture, the AFC will be under pressure to change their policy on ticketing if the Socceroos beat China on Thursday.

Australia had been tipped to top their group, meaning they would have played their quarter-final in Melbourne and, if victorious, their semi-final in Sydney. But Saturday’s 1-0 loss to South Korea meant they finished second and on a much tougher route to the Cup final. with AAP

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Melbourne’s Theatre Works teams up with London’s Southbank Centre for new season

Bryony Kimmings and Tim Grayburn in Fake It Til You Make It. Photo: Sarah Walker Bryony Kimmings and Tim Grayburn in Fake It Til You Make It. Photo: Sarah Walker
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Bryony Kimmings and Tim Grayburn in Fake It Til You Make It. Photo: Sarah Walker

Bryony Kimmings and Tim Grayburn in Fake It Til You Make It. Photo: Sarah Walker

St Kilda’s Theatre Works celebrates its 35th anniversary this year and creative director and chief executive Daniel Clarke says the 2015  program is as diverse and exciting as any so far in his successful tenure.

“It’s my fourth year at Theatre Works and – as it should be – I think each year has got stronger and stronger,” he said ahead of the theatre’s program launch.

“I’m really excited about this program; there are a lot of great artists; new artists we haven’t worked with before and artists that we’ve developed relationships with over the last four years.”

The first big show of the year is a world premiere tour of British performance artist Bryony Kimmings’ new show Fake It Til You Make It,  a co-commission between Theatre Works and London’s Southbank Centre.

The show, which promises “homemade music, stupid dancing, onstage arguments, real-life stories, tears and truths” co-stars Tim Grayburn and explores clinical depression.

It is, Clarke says, something of a coup for the indie theatre company.

“It’s amazing! We’re developing it now and it’s a project that we’re doing from the ground up, which is one of the visions I had when I started at Theatre Works, to do more of that,” he says.

Kimmings appeared in the hugely successful Credible Likeable Superstar Role Model at Theatre Works last year.

“This project came from that, from  the relationship we developed with Bryony,” Clarke says.

The work will premiere in Perth, play a month in Adelaide and will, be, he says “in top shape when it opens in Melbourne”.

Such long-term relationships with artists are reflected throughout the 2015 program, with everything this year either commissioned, produced or co-produced by Theatre Works.

Since taking on the role of creative producer in 2011, Clarke has won praise for expanding the company’s scope, partnering with international events including the Melbourne Festival and the Comedy Festival, as well as progressive local festivals such as Next Wave and Midsumma.

This year he’s forged another partnership with the VCA, with Flight, a mini season-within-the-season which will give a platform to recent graduates of the VCA Masters in Writing for Performance course, led by acclaimed playwright Raimondo Cortese.

After several applications from graduates of the course, which started three years ago, Clarke was inspired to give these new writers a “leg-up”.

Five plays will be showcased throughout July and August at Theatre Works and Footscray Community Arts Centre.

“These graduates develop a play over a whole year with Raimondo, and I thought it would be great to find a context to give a season to these works, and acknowledge these new voices coming out of VCA,” he says. “It’s something we hope will be an ongoing relationship.”

Other works include Adena Jacobs and Aaron Orzech’s world premiere The Bacchae, a co-commission between Melbourne Festival, St Martins and Theatre Works which features an ensemble of 30 actors on stage; Dracula, an intriguing theatrical concept from Little Ones Theatre in which performers try to recreate a silent movie on stage with a live score; and a double bill of work from two Singaporean-Australian artists. Saltwater, by Jamie Lewis, is a participatory work for just 15 audience members, who take part in the preparation of a meal.

“It’s more of a live art experience, and quite a ritualistic work,” Clarke says “It’s really a conversation where you’re making a meal with Jamie and sharing stories. I’d use the word ‘delicate’ to describe it. You’re there with a group of strangers but somehow, within that space, you remember your own family as Jamie talks about her own experiences.”

Saltwater will play with Letters Home, by Singaporean artist Joe Lui, who explores his life in exile after refusing military service in Singapore, making him a criminal and unable to return home.

Then there’s Rust And Bone, which Clarke himself is directing. Adapted from short stories by Canadian author Craig Davidson, the work is described as an exploration of masculinity.

After stepping back from his own creativity to foster that of others, Clarke is, rightly, excited to be directing again.

“I didn’t direct a work last year, so I need to do it –  and I should flag that when I do direct for Theatre Works, it’s me doing it independently!”

The whole 2015 season is, he says, “big – in terms of scale and artists pushing themselves”.

“Although last year felt pretty huge, I feel like this might be one of the most … comprehensive, and solid.”

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Australian troops face threat in Iraq amid slow international response

Australian troops in Iraq are shouldering a heavier burden than they should in the fight against Islamic State. Photo: Michael DavisAustralian troops in Iraq have been dealing with roadside bombs, significantly raising the risk they face, as a Fairfax Media analysis shows they are shouldering a heavier burden in the fight against the Islamic State than other comparable countries.
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Defence has said that Australian special forces are already working closely with the Iraqis including tackling so-called improvised explosive devices – a more hands-on role than they were previously thought to be carrying out.

Such devices, known as IEDs, were the scourge of western forces in the previous Iraq campaign and the Afghanistan war. Fifteen of 41 Australian soldiers killed in Afghanistan died from IED blasts.

“Working with their Iraqi Special Operations counterparts, the SOTG (special operations task group) has qualified more than 100 Iraqi Security Force soldiers in counter-terrorist operations, dealt with IEDs in support of ISF and conducted electronic warfare operations,” a Defence spokeswoman said.

The commandos have also “helped to co-ordinate … air strikes and close air support operations during more than 75 advise-and-assist tasks in partnership with the ISF”, the spokeswoman said.

While the government was last year considering sending additional troops for a longer term training role – following discussions between US President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Tony Abbott during a meeting in Beijing – it is now understood to believe Australia is currently doing its fair share.

A detailed analysis of international action in the fight against Islamic State militants reveals that key countries have not sent forces commensurate with their resources and in many cases have not yet met their pledges.

Australia’s contribution of 200 special forces plus 400 personnel working on the air campaign comes from a small standing force of about 59,000 troops.

But Britain and European countries are yet to send any substantial troop numbers for building up the Iraqi forces on the ground – which is regarded as essential to ensuring the Iraqis can retake the larges swathes of territory captured by the militants.

There is understood to be irritation across the coalition – including in Australia – that the British have not contributed more. The country’s Defence Secretary Michael Fallon last year pledged to send ground troops numbering in the “low hundreds” – from a standing force of 160,000 – but this has not yet happened.

British newspaper reports at the weekend suggested the number was being watered down to 100 or fewer amid speculation the government is worried about a political backlash in an election year.

Canada’s contribution to the air campaign is similar to Australia’s but they have sent only a few dozen special forces soldiers to train Kurdish fighters in the north.

France, Germany and Norway have also pledged ground troops to advise and train the Iraqis, but none has yet materialised. France however has about 3000 troops in North Africa hunting al-Qaeda-affiliated militants and is also involved in the air campaign in Iraq.

Fairfax Media has been told the 1500 international ground troops that the Pentagon was expecting late last year – above the 3000 the US has committed – are nowhere close to being found.

A spokeswoman for Defence Minister Kevin Andrews said Australia was “proud to partner with other countries in order to rid the world of the Daesh death cult” but “individual contributions are a matter for each country”.

But the lack of serious contributions by key countries raises questions about whether the difficult phase of the campaign – helping the Iraqis take back territory – can be achieved.

Peter Jennings, executive director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, said it would be difficult to defeat Islamic State with the current resources.

“This is not a problem you can solve with a couple of thousand trainers … We’re probably going to be in a stalemate for most of this year.”

He said the IED threat would likely grow, particularly as the Iraqis try to go on the offensive, taking them into territory that Islamic State would litter with hidden bombs.

“I think we’re going to see a lot more IEDs actually … There is no clear distinction between the front line and rear lines in Iraq anymore.

“What that means is that our guys are actually in a pretty high threat even if they’re not doing combat operations. But they’re well-equipped to deal with it. They know how to handle themselves.”

He said allied countries were wary about getting further involved because they were unconvinced that the Obama administration was fully committed, nor that the government in Baghdad was in a good enough shape to take on Islamic State.

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Noma pops up in Japan

Rather wonderful: Fermented shiitake mushroom in dark chocolate. Photo: Jill Dupleix Native produce: Hyokkori pumpkin, cherrywood oil and salted cherry blossom. Photo: Jill Dupleix
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Assorted Japanese citrus and long pepper. Photo: Jill Dupleix

Sydney chefs pop up in Melbourne restaurants, Melbourne chefs pop up in Hong Kong, and Hong Kong chefs pop up in New York. Chefs these days are busier popping up than chopping up.

The Big Poppa is, of course, Heston Blumenthal, who is moving The Fat Duck restaurant holus-bolus to Crown Melbourne for six months from February 3, with $525 a person reservations available only by ballot, but the most audacious of the here now, gone tomorrow trend-setters must be Rene Redzepi, of Copenhagen’s Noma, the world’s No. 1 restaurant for four years, who has just moved to the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Tokyo for five weeks, until February 14.

At about $420 a person for lunch or dinner, it’s cheaper than dining at The Fat Duck, but don’t get excited. Seats sold out within hours, and there are 60,000 people on the waiting list.

Unlike Blumenthal, who will be essentially recreating the celebrated dishes of The Fat Duck in Melbourne, Redzepi is cooking food he has never cooked before. He and his research and development chefs, Lars Williams and Thomas Frebel have visited Japan seven times in the past year, sourcing suppliers, meeting farmers, and scouring the vast Tsukiji fish market for ideas and ingredients, to create a kaiseki-inspired menu based purely on Japanese native produce.

“The easiest thing would have been to bring all the foodstuffs from back home, but we don’t want to just copy Noma,” says Redzepi. “To be truly inspired, we had to be more than just culinary tourists.”

Along the way, they sampled Japanese ants, mountain grapes, larvae from lethal hornets, venison tongue, horsemeat, and farm-raised snapping turtle. Foraged local plants were tasted and tested, five kinds of local woods were processed into oils and broths, and 40 different lacto-ferments and garums were tested in readiness for opening night.

The Noma team hasn’t just moved into the 37th-floor Signature Restaurant, but it has dismantled and rebuilt it, to reflect the innate simplicity and nature-driven traditions of Japan and the utilitarian naturalness of Danish design. The conversations between Redzepi and the Mandarin Oriental’s general manager, Anthony Costa, mark a significant shift in thinking from restaurant pop-up to restaurant-in-residence.

Denmark’s famed Carl Hansen & Son was commissioned to design the oak tables and chairs, and 13 different local Japanese artists and artisans created every serving plate, tray, bowl and utensil used.

The cost of the tableware alone was greater than the total cost of flying the 77-strong Noma team, including the dishwasher, from Copenhagen to Tokyo. “We need to sell these objects afterwards, piece by piece, or we’re in the shit,” says Redzepi. “It’s a mind-bending exercise to risk everything coming here. We still don’t know if we are going to break even. To pay the rent on Noma in Copenhagen and here in Tokyo, it is a lot of pressure.”

Clearly, it hasn’t been done solely as a money-making exercise. “We wanted a life experience for the whole team,” he says. “Being here throws us off balance. That is good. Who knows what will happen?”

Of the 6500 diners who will pass through Noma’s residency, more than half are Japanese. The big surprise is the number of Australians, including a family of six from Sydney who built their three-week holiday around their Noma reservation, making up one-third of the bookings.

“Australia and Noma have always had a special affinity”, says Redzepi, citing the long-serving Australians on Team Noma, from sous-chef Beau Clugston, of Coffs Harbour, to restaurant manager James Spreadbury, of Adelaide, and team leader Katherine Bont, of Sydney.

The dining experience itself is slightly surreal, with chefs producing 16 consecutive dishes during three hours. One, a delicate, thin-shelled tart topped with astringent wild kiwi and shavings of fingernail-sized freshwater clams (the sort lurking in the base of every Tokyo bowl of miso soup), requires 3850 raw clams to be opened by hand for every service, lunch and dinner. Thirteen people do this, for four hours, twice a day.

At one point, a whole roasted wild duck – not shot, but caught by traditional saka-ami hunting nets – is brought whole to each table, before being dissected and returned in all its beak-to-claw glory with a blood-red matsubusa berry sauce.

Another dish is a play on zaru soba, the “noodles” thinly sliced cuttlefish coated in fermented cuttlefish, ready to dip into a resinous broth of pine and rose petals. Another is a glossy black “leather” made of black garlic, folded origami-style into a leaf. Yet another is a crystalline shima-ebi prawn, still twitching, dotted with citrus-spiked black ants from the forests of Nagano in western Japan. It’s all very Japanese and, strangely and rather wonderfully, it’s also very Noma.Menu sampler

Assorted Japanese citrus and long pepper

Shaved monkfish liver

Just-steamed tofu with wild walnuts

Sea urchin, maitake mushroom and cabbage

Scallop dried for two days, beech nuts and kelp

Hyokkori pumpkin, cherrywood oil, salted cherry blossom

Garlic flower origami

Sweet potato simmered in raw sugar all day

Fermented shiitake mushroom in dark chocolate

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Newcastle Jet Andrew Hoole expected to sign with Sydney FC within days

Exit: Andrew Hoole, right, and Diogo Ferreira of the Glory contest the ball during a clash at nib Stadium. Photo: Gettty Images Exit: Andrew Hoole, right, and Diogo Ferreira of the Glory contest the ball during a clash at nib Stadium. Photo: Gettty Images
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Exit: Andrew Hoole, right, and Diogo Ferreira of the Glory contest the ball during a clash at nib Stadium. Photo: Gettty Images

Exit: Andrew Hoole, right, and Diogo Ferreira of the Glory contest the ball during a clash at nib Stadium. Photo: Gettty Images

Winger Andrew Hoole has rejected a two-year deal with the Newcastle Jets in favour of Sydney FC because he believes it will benefit his football career.

While the 21-year-old is yet to officially sign with the Sky Blues, a two-year deal is expected to be inked within days.

The Newcastle Herald revealed on Monday that Hoole was poised to join the A-League heavyweights, despite Jets owner and chairman Nathan Tinkler describing him as a priority signing.

Tinkler told The World Game SBS website that Hoole was “a great young prospect and we want to retain our best juniors, starting with him”.

Tinkler repeated those comments in The Financial Review on Monday when he said the Jets were keen to re-sign Hoole.

Since making his debut in January 2013 against Brisbane Roar, the former Broadmeadow Magic recruit has made 39 A-League appearances and is arguably the Jets’ best local talent.

Both the Jets and Sydney FC tabled similar offers in terms of value and length of time, but the lure of playing under Sky Blues coach Graham Arnold was an added attraction.

Hoole’s manager Joel Grenell denied the Sydney FC deal was finalised and said his client would leave Newcastle with a heavy heart.

“Obviously Andrew is a Newcastle boy and it’s always a dream of a player to play for their local club as long as they can, but this obviously has come up and it’s a very hard one to say no to,” Grenell said.

“Andrew has had a fantastic time in the youth team and first-grade team and they’ve helped develop him to get to this stage where Sydney FC want to sign him, so he’s forever in debt and very grateful of the opportunities being presented through [outgoing Jets CEO] Robbie Middleby and the club.

“It’s a very hard one for a young boy to leave Newcastle, but sometimes you need to get out of your comfortable zone to grow.”

Hoole’s departure followed the announcement on Monday morning that home-grown goalkeeper Ben Kennedy had re-signed for a further two years taking him through to the 2016-17 season.

The Thornton lad is the sole survivor from the Jets first season in the A-League and he has overcome a challenge from Mark Birighitti this season to once again become the club’s first-choice gloveman.

Despite the uncertainty surrounding the Jets ownership and their poor record of one win in 14 games this season, Kennedy said he never considered leaving.

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